Vasily Ivanovich Surikov (1848 -1916) was the foremost Russian painter of large-scale historical subjects. His major pieces are among the best-known paintings in Russia. In his canvases Surikov dealt with many dramatic episodes of Russian history such as the reformation of the church in the mid 17th century and Peter the Great's reforms of the 18th century.
In Surikov's own time, the late 19th century, there were numerous flashbacks to those events in Russia. The Wanderers, a group of Russian realist artists to which Surikov belonged, were greatly influenced by the ideas of revolutionary democrats; they believed that art had a social-educational mission. They organized exhibitions all over Russia bringing art to the common people. The association united many of the best artists of the time. It was most active during the 1870s and 80s. Moscow merchant Pavel Tretyakov, the founder of the first museum of Russian art, was the main collector and promoter of the Wanderers' works, guided in his activity by the ideal of serving the people.
The Russian people were the main characters of Surikov's works and courage and daring were the artist's principal subject matters. In his paintings, Surikov always focused on fine portraiture. His female images are particularly elaborate and masterful.
He executed only nine historical canvases out of hundreds of portraits, studies, and sketches - but what canvases! He was a master of monumental historical compositions, depicting national tragedies and powerful human characters.
Surikov was born in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. In 1869-1871 he studied under Pavel Chistyakov at the Imperial Academy of Arts. In 1877, Surikov settled in Moscow, where he contributed some imposing frescoes to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. In 1878 he married Elizabeth Charais, a granddaughter of the Decembrist Svistunov. In 1881 he joined the Peredvizhniki movement. From 1893 he was a full member of the St.Petersburg Academy of Arts.